Ambassador of Georgia Mrs Tamar Beruchashvili reveals Georgia’s secret weapon: gastronomic diplomacy
In modern public diplomacy, food and cuisine represent increasingly popular soft power instruments that can communicate a country’s culture and values, as well as enhancing its trade, investment and tourism.
Various terms have been coined to demonstrate this, from ‘culinary diplomacy’ to ‘gastrodiplomacy’ or ‘gastronomic diplomacy.’ But whichever term we apply, the concept is about using food and cuisine to create cross-cultural understanding, share a country’s cultural heritage, foster connections, strengthen relations, increase awareness and nation branding. According to gastronomist and cultural diplomacy expert Paul Rockower, “Gastrodiplomacy seeks to communicate culture through food to the broader foreign public and to engage people-to-people connections through the act of breaking bread.” When she was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “Showcasing favourite cuisines, ceremonies and values is an often overlooked and powerful tool of diplomacy.’’ On top of that, specialists in culinary diplomacy Dr Johanna Mendelson Forman and Sam Chapple-Sokol suggest that “…chefs from conflict countries can also become a bridge to a greater understanding of the history and heritage of any given country or region.’’
For many countries like the US, Japan, France, South Korea, Peru, Thailand and Malaysia culinary diplomacy has become an established part of the diplomatic toolkit. Georgia is a strong supporter of this concept, and has already started to introduce its authentic cuisine in an effort to promote nation-branding.
In general, Georgians strongly believe that eating together unites people, defuses tensions, creates trust and confidence, and shapes alliances. As a country nestled in the Great Caucasus mountains at the crossroads of the Black and Caspian Seas, Georgia’s rich and diverse culinary tradition and table culture was formed over centuries and has been passed down from one generation to another. While making a journey to Georgia in 1672, famous French traveller Jean Chardin described the way that Georgians used to feast as an expression of heartfelt generosity and hospitality.
Usually held on a long table, the tradition of the Georgian supra (feast) is a sample of fine protocol with the elected tamada (or toastmaster) who presides over the table introducing toasts to friendship, love and gratitude, while praising each member of the feast. Between toasts, the tamada encourages lively discussions and entertainment. Supra is true public diplomacy in action that lets people ‘break the ice.’ Ultimately, differences are set aside and a way to get along is found.
Every Georgian is greatly proud of their food and supra code of conduct, because it demonstrates the Georgian spirit and true values of hospitality, respect and tolerance. Georgian cuisine encompasses an impressive variety of dishes enriched with herbs and spices, creating a balanced mosaic of flavours where spices enhance, rather than smother, the food. Here are some impressions of the Georgian supra event organised by Adjara Group Hospitality in Berlin in June this year: “Participation at the Georgian table is an indulgent affair: meat-filled khinkali dumplings are paired with lobio, a red and white kidney bean salad, pkhali is a dish made with spinach and walnuts and often garnished with pomegranate seeds, all served before a roast suckling pig arrives at the table with accompanying tkemali (plum sauce). And then there’s the sweet treat: churchkhela, a delicious grape candy with walnut filling. The ritual of free-flowing local wine and endless courses of palate-pleasing, coma-inducing delicacies is an integral part of social interaction.”
In this gastronomic palette there are two ‘must have’ ingredients: wine and Khachapuri.
It is no secret that wine is Georgia’s finest ambassador. A tourist visiting the country for the first time receives a bottle of wine from the border officer as a welcome gesture, together with a stamp in their passport. Based on archaeological evidence dating back 8,000 years, Georgia is the birthplace of wine and the country with the oldest and most continuous tradition of winemaking. The etymology of the word ‘wine’ is said to stem from the Georgian word gvino.
Wine for Georgians is much more than just a beverage. Historically, wine was not only the basis of economic wealth, but also part of spiritual culture. After centuries of perfecting winemaking, it is not surprising that Georgian wines – Saperavi, Tsinandali, Mukuzani, Kisi, Napereuli and others – are exquisite. In 2013, Georgia’s traditional winemaking method of fermenting grape juice and skins in earthenware, egg-shaped vessels (Qvevri) was added to the UNESCO world heritage list as part of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity category. This is the unique way of making orange/amber wine so fashionable nowadays. Currently Georgian wine is exported into 46 countries worldwide promoting Georgian culture and tradition. It also attracts tourists to explore our wine routes, as well as wine diplomacy. Recently, ten Georgian wine houses have been opened, with 40 more to be launched in different cities in China. Furthermore, this year has seen a 60 per cent increase in Georgian wine export to the UK.
Often referred to as Georgian pizza, Khachapuri is one of the Georgians’ favourite dishes. A cheese bread, the word comes from khacho, for cheese curd, and puri, for bread. Its shape varies from region to region within the country. For example, Khachapuri from the Black Sea region, Adjara, has a boat-like shape and is served with a fresh egg in the centre symbolising ‘the sun sunk in the sea.’
It’s such an essential food that the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University created the Khachapuri Index, an indicator of inflation in different Georgian cities calculated from the cost of a basket containing only the ingredients needed to cook one Khachapuri (flour, cheese, yeast, eggs, milk, and butter), plus energy costs (gas and electricity).
Fast acquiring a reputation for culinary expertise, Georgia is actively emerging as a country with one of the finest gastronomic and table arts of the world.
With the opening of various Georgian restaurants, our cuisine has been put on the map. Back in 2002 and 2003, the Embassy in London arranged an event called ‘Legend of Georgia’, revealing the secrets of Georgian cuisine in specialist wine venue, Vinopolis. Since 2013, ‘Taste Georgia’ has been a successful annual showcase introducing thousands of Londoners to the country’s finest foods, wines and culture. There are also concrete plans between the British-Georgian Chamber of Commerce and the Georgian Wine Club to organise a traditional Georgian supra in London to celebrate Georgian wine and food, which will contribute to raising international awareness of our country. Just as diplomats need to be empowered with new skills, ‘wine diplomacy’ is already part of the training centre’s curriculum at Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Furthermore, readers are invited to join one of the Embassy of Georgia in London’s new initiatives, which is a series of Wine Table Talks on Georgian politics, economy and culture, as well as wider regional issues. We believe these meetings will be an excellent opportunity to bring together relevant topics and people in a pleasant, yet business-like environment over exceptional Georgian wine and delicious Khachapuri!